Five Minutes Later…
Our entire walk up the steps and back to where Trey had parked the Ferrari was a litany of "thou shalt nots"—don't put my hand through the steering wheel, don't rev the engine, don't forget the blind spot.
"The gear-shift interval is one hundred and fifty milliseconds," he said, "which is faster that you can consciously process. The progression will startle you if you're not prepared."
"And the brakes are somewhat counter-intuitive. You hit them lightly at first, then more firmly when the ABS kicks in, which is—"
"I know, I know. I've been watching you for a year now."
Trey wasn't listening. "Keep your hands at three and nine, not two and ten. And don't red-line the tach. It'll push past six thousand with only the slightest—"
"Powerful engine. Got it."
"Enough!" I stopped walking, turned to face him. "You trust me in your bed, but not your car? That's some skewed priorities, boyfriend."
He folded his arms. "No, it's not. It's a simple risk-benefit analysis."
I examined him more closely. In the minute that had passed since he'd handed me the keys, he'd gone from nervous to downright discombobulated. I recognized the symptoms—the rapid blinking, the twitch at the corner of his mouth, the index finger tap-tap-tapping against his forearm.
"Have you changed your mind?" I said.
He was wrong. He'd changed his mind faster than those millisecond gears he'd been yammering about, he just hadn't realized it yet. I wrapped the keys tighter in my fist.
"I do have some experience with complicated persnickety things, you know."
"It's not persnickety, it's..." He narrowed his eyes. "You're talking about me, aren't you?"
"If the persnickety fits."
"I don't think—"
I put my arms around his waist, but it was like hugging a marble statue. I wrapped him tighter until I felt the give, the subtle unhinging of his armor. I understood, I really did. The Ferrari was more than his most prized possession, it was his identity. When he took the wheel, the world made sense, wholly and completely, all the battered and fractured pieces coming together in clockwork precision, coherent and perfect. And now he was turning it over to me, the opposite of coherence and perfection.
"I know this is hard for you," I said. "It must feel like your whole universe is a plate spinning on a stick. Like any second, the whole thing's gonna crash and burn."
He flinched. "Don't say crash and burn."
"Sorry. Bad choice of words." I cinched him closer. "Look at me."
He dragged his eyes away from the Ferrari and fastened them on me.
"Good. Now listen. When I'm in the driver's seat, I will behave. I will follow every rule, every instruction, that comes out of your mouth, to the letter."
His forehead uncreased just the slightest. "Do you promise?"
"I promise. Cross my heart."
I watched him search my face, his gaze lingering on my mouth. Evaluating my veracity. I let him do it. Eventually, he let out the breath he'd been holding, gave a tiny nod of acquiescence. I took his hand and pulled him toward the far end of the parking lot.
The Ferrari reclined royally along the curb, panther dangerous, a black-on-black F430 coupe that gleamed like polished midnight. It was slink and sinew, a double dog dare with a V8 engine and a top speed of 200 mph. I approached it deliberately, with intent, and when I ran my free hand along its Pininfarina loins, I could have sworn it purred in response and arched against my palm.
I opened the door, the rich smell of leather wafting up like perfume. Trey remained rooted in place, not moving.
"This is the driver's side," I said gently. "You get in the passenger's side."
He hesitated, then let go of my hand and walked around the car. I took a deep breath and climbed in. The leather seat molded itself to my body, buttery soft and receptive. I settled myself deep and low, wrapped my fingers around the steering wheel.
It felt good. Real good.
Trey fastened himself in. "You need to adjust the seat. Your wrists should meet the bottom of the wheel. The mirrors—"
"I know, I know."
"Will you please stop talking and let me savor this moment?"
He refolded his arms and clamped his mouth shut. I could feel the machine waiting for me to begin, and it was the same way Trey waited for me on certain nights, every sense heightened, poised, gathered potential aching to be released. The Ferrari attuned itself to its driver, to the intimacy of ears and hands and eyes, to the slightest, most delicate touch. And—at this particular moment—that touch was mine.
My fingers trembled as I pushed the ignition switch and the engine roared to life. It vibrated up through my pelvis, and I shut my eyes. "Omigod."
"No, no, no!" Trey's voice prickled with panic. "Don't close your eyes. Don't ever close your eyes."
I snapped my eyes back open. "Calm down. We're not even moving."
"Regardless, you can't...I mean, you mustn't..."
Exasperated, he dropped his head back against the seat and stared straight up at the interior. I felt a memory surfacing, of the sun-streaked spring afternoon a year ago, when he'd called me back to his apartment, and how I'd whipped my car into a highly illegal U-turn, no hesitation whatsoever. And how in those next delicious moments, after the kiss and before the naked, I'd seen this same look on his face, this bewildered uncertainly. And I'd known then what I knew now—that I had to summon up my resolve and do right by him.
I pried my fingers off the steering wheel. "Trey? Are you okay?"
He stared some more and pondered the question. He was in systems check mode, monitoring his breathing and pulse rate, his muscle tension and neuronal flaring. He calculated these, and then he rolled his head to the side and looked at me.
"No," he said. "I'm not."
I sighed. That was exactly what I'd been afraid of. I reached to cut the ignition, but he caught my hand.
"No. Wait." His voice was firm even if the rest of him was shaky. He pulled himself upright. "I am not going to explain this well, so bear with me, but...perhaps it doesn't matter if I'm not okay."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that I've invested a great deal of time and energy in being okay, in staying okay, and it hasn't turned out to be the most effective solution, not as a longterm strategy anyway."
It was my turn to stare now. The car continued to rumble.
"So you're saying..."
"I'm saying perhaps a more effective approach, at this specific juncture, is to be okay with not being okay." He flicked his eyes up to mine, then dropped them again. "I've been afraid of...that's not the right word, of course, afraid." He thought some more, frowned. "Actually, yes. That's exactly the right word. Afraid. Because over here, in this seat, where I can't...I'm not explaining this very well."
"No no, keep going. You're doing great."
He thought some more. "There's not as much control, sitting over here, but that's not necessarily bad. There is power in that too, in the choice to...I need a word, multi-syllabic, starts with R."
"Yes. That. Both of those, actually."
He was right. I knew this myself, had learned it at his hands. There was power in surrender, in turning yourself over to another's keeping, even for an hour. Trust was a thing of muscle and grit, nothing delicate and pastel about it whatsoever. It required breaking open and tearing down. It required deep tenacious roots.
Trey raised his eyes. "This isn't about not trusting you, it's about not trusting...I don't know. I was worried that I wouldn't understand anymore, that I'd lose...you know. Me. But I haven't."
I smiled. "Nope. You're right there."
"Yes. And you're right there."
"Yep. Not going anywhere."
"Neither am I." He cocked his head, and the corner of his mouth kinked in that familiar almost-smile. "So perhaps I'm okay after all."
And I saw the same thing I'd seen that afternoon a year ago, when I'd stopped unwrapping him like a Christmas present and made myself look him in the eye and see him, all of him, in all his strength and vulnerability, the yielding softness and the unswerving patient goodness. I saw courage, which—as anyone with two brain cells to rub together will tell you—is about being afraid and not letting the fear have its way.
I gathered his fingers in mine, squeezed hard. He squeezed back.
"Are you ready?" I said.
He nodded. And I moved my hands back to the wheel and let my foot rest on the accelerator. I curled my toes and pressed ever so slightly, a coaxing suggestion, and the car responded with a surge and growl.
Trey blew out a breath. "Steady and controlled."
"And keep your eyes on the road. The car will follow your eyes. There is a temptation to watch for obstacles, but you can't do that in a Ferrari."
I gave the throttle a little more oomph, and the car lurched forward like a thoroughbred bolting from the gate. I slammed the brake, which whiplashed both of us. Trey put a hand against the dashboard and braced himself. He'd gone pale again.
"Oh hell," I said. "Sorry. Damn, that's a touchy throttle."
He collected himself. "It takes getting used to. Try again. Easy but firm."
He double-checked his seatbelt. Then he murmured something under his breath as his hand moved up and down and across this chest—chin to breastbone, shoulder to shoulder.
I stared. "Did you just cross yourself?"
"Oh. I suppose I did. Sorry. Old habit, entirely subconscious." He nodded toward the road. "Go ahead. Try again."
I flexed my fingers, retook the wheel. The motor rumbled, and I slipped a glance Trey's way. He'd grabbed the door handle so tightly his knuckles were white, and he had his other hand wrapped around the emergency brake. He was knife-edge alert, fully adrenalized, and...something else. I could see it in the blood rush along his cheekbones, the quickened respiration. He craved the kick as much as I did. The need for it thrummed through him, high octane and irresistible.
I licked my lips. "Trey?"
"Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"
He looked puzzled. "I don't know. What are you thinking?"
I reached over and placed my hand on his thigh, and suddenly he knew exactly what I was thinking. The flush deepened.
"You can't tell me you've never thought about it."
He made a soft scoffing noise. "Of course I have. But the angles are problematic."
"You've calculated the angles?"
He narrowed his eyes, trying to look stern, but failing miserably.
I laughed. "Of course you have." Then I leaned closer, dropped my voice. "But I've got angles you've only dreamed about, boyfriend."
He blinked at me. And then lines of his mouth widened into a grin, a genuine Irish grin, the deep-set dimples revealing themselves. And to my utter astonishment, he laughed too, husky and low and deep in his throat. The first laugh I'd ever heard escape his lips.
"Yes," he said. "I'm sure you do."
I pulled him in for a kiss, which I'd intended to be gentle and reassuring, a sweet kiss. And it was sweet, all right, sweet like May wine, so sweet I had my hands off the steering wheel and on him in two seconds flat. And if I'd had a tachometer, it would have red-lined all the way.
I ran my fingers into his hair. "I swear, I could take you right now, on the hood, with God and all of metro Atlanta looking on."
"You can do that later," he said, adjusting the seatbelt one final time. "Right now…drive."
I grinned. Then I settled myself behind the wheel, placed my foot on the accelerator, and pressed. The car surged forward, the growl intensifying into a whine. I knew that once we got on the open road, the guttural wail would climb to an ear-shattering banshee scream, the mating call of steel. And I knew that in that carefully calibrated dance of chemistry and physics, it would deliver everything I asked of it, and more. Always more.
"You're gonna want to hold onto something," I said.
And then I took us onto the highway like lightning loosed from a cannon.